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The Heavens Were Playing...

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
08/21/2015 -  August 22, 2015
Franz Joseph Haydn: Die Schöpfung
Sarah Tynan (Soprano), Thomas Cooley (Tenor), John Relyea (Bass)
Concert Chorale of New York, James Bagwell (Director), Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Louis Langrée (Conductor)

S. Tynan (© Chris Gloag)

"Whut happened???" Anon, 9:25 pm, August 21, 2015

The question of course refers to the interval between 1798 and 2015. Joseph Haydn’s Creation, a world of “cheerful roaring” lions and “flexible” tigers, “gentle sloping hills” and “sinuous” worms, insects “rising”, commands to “multiply, ye finny tribes”, and heavens “telling the glory of God.” And today, a world of collisions and catastrophes and massacres garner little more than a yawn.

Haydn, though, knew this not. This was music with not a shadow of a minor chord, with even a rare diminished seventh, with endless glory, inspired modulations, non-flaunting fugues, melodies as numerous as “the innum’rous host of radiant orbs.

The Creation was Haydn’s masterwork, of course, Equally important is the spell woven about Louis Langrée’s performance last night to close the Mostly Mozart Festival. And truth be told, Mr. Langrée did not have the most arduous job in the music business. Josef Haydn, inspired by listening to music by Handel when in London, out of the clutches of his Hungarian benefactors, exalted by the still new King James version of Genesis and the poetry of John Milton, created an oratorio which–arguably–is as musically as exciting as Messiah but without all the dramatic complexity.

The Creation is a child’s vision of the first seven days, a work which appeals to Evolutionists as well as Creationists. Yet essentially, this is a work which sings by itself. With the right soloists and chorus, and with a prudently expanded 18th Century band, The Creation is as wondrous as Michelangelo’s link from God to humanity.

Giving an idiosyncratic performance does no good at all, but this concert did have a unique introduction by Program Annotator Peter A. Hoyt. Until now, I had considered that only Leon Botstein wrote “musical notes” which encompassed history, philosophy, society and ideology. Professor Hoyt, though, wrote here little about the music, instead showing how the libretto (by an Austrian nobleman) may (or may not) have been a liberal giving Haydn the chance to write about the Enlightenment.

Mr. Hoyt seems to feel that this is instead a conservative document, meant to satisfy the nobility in upholding the status quo. I personally would disagree–but I also feel that Haydn, unlike Beethoven and sometimes Mozart, was above politics, and simply set the music as well as possible.

(Then again, when we have Eve stating that Adam is “law to me”, and “from my obedience grows my pride and happiness”, we could be going back to last week’s opera Written on Skin!!)

Back to the music. Mr. Langrée did have the orchestral forces in his Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, though that all-important Introduction did sag in the middle. Slow it must be, yet this orchestra wasn’t quite in synch for these opening minutes. Yet perhaps because of such lassitude the Tristan-like ending was more effective than ever.

Mr. Langrée allowed his soloists to have their due (the lovely trio of flutes and pizzicato strings in Part 3, and above all, the onomatopoeic orchestral rain, hail, worms, stags and worm. These days we would all this Mickey Mouse Music, but Haydn gave it joy, humor and a tree-huggers appreciation.

The Concert Chorale had the single which beats the hell out of any other Classical composer, that rapturous C Major fortissimo, when the chorus sings “and there was Light”.

That group, led by James Bagwell, is as important as the soloists, and they did not fail here. The old standbys, “The Heavens are Telling” and “Awake the Harp” are always rousing in a Handelian fashion. But no matter what the chorus–and they are amongst Haydn’s finest–this is a group which balanced well and was suitably stentorian.

Haydn didn’t need the standard quartet for this work. Three angels (two of them doubling as Adam and Eve) were all that were necessary. John Relyea sounded a bit rough in his first moments, but soon calmed down to a more mellow Uriel. Thomas Cooley (who, like Mr. Relyea, was a last minute substitution) was more jubilant, his tenor as light at the music demanded.

But it was the great British soprano Susan Tynan, who was the paradigm of the Creation angel cum Eve. Later, I read about her outlandishly eclectic repertoire. Here, she could have been singing Rogers and Hammerstein or any Julie Andrews music. And how appropriate this was!! For Haydn was wafting on waves of enjoyment when he wrote this, and with Ms. Tynan dancing through “With verdure clad,” or the Arcadian duet in Part Three, she was a Creation angel.

For rarely have I passed a more balmy summer evening. One still wonders how this Eighteenth Century picture showing the beginning of time should have evolved into massacres, genocides, evil national schemers, and the destruction of what God saw, that “it was good.”

For this was imaginative and ingenious, it had not the slightest drop of oratorio sacrosanct stuffiness. Haydn’s painting of stars and oceans and creatures were, in the words of John Milton, “every joy entranced...life incessant bliss...”

Harry Rolnick



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